Archive: Galantier: The Background

Archive: Originally posted on 09/01/2010 at

Nine years ago, I was thinking about the fall of the Roman Empire.  (Yes, I do this.)  Rome didn’t fall so much as contract and stop interfering in the world, but it still served as a center of communication, cultural movement and authority.

I got to thinking, “What if Rome completely ceased to be?”  It was possible — a massive eruption at Vesuvius could have wiped half of Italy off the map.  That it hasn’t happened yet is geologic luck — right now, it isn’t a huge threat, but it once was.  Had some of the eruptions before 79 CE happened later (they were nastier), Rome… well, maybe not.

Rome had lots of little outposts all over Europe and Western Asia, most numbering a few hundred Romans and a couple thousand locals under Roman guidance.  So I got to thinking, what would have happened to those little outposts?  Could they have survived and kept the culture alive, if evolving?

And so, the seed of Galantier was born.

Archive: Clever Countries

Archive: Originally posted 09/01/2010 at


Small countries throughout history have really had two choices — be clever or become a province of some bigger country. In world history, that’s meant everything from marrying off the daughters to every conceivable ally to “Hi, I’m NEUTRAL!” to “You know this drug/spice/dried leaf I just got you hooked on? If you conquer my country, you won’t get more of it…”

They’re all clever strategies. (Ethical… well, that’s for another day.)

Big countries needn’t (but really should be) clever. They’ll endure without much help because the momentum and mass just keeps rolling. But small countries have to work harder. This may explain the Netherlands’ 17th and 18th century dominance of European trade; and England’s late 18th and 19th century.

It’s kind of like being the kid in school who gets picked upon — the kid can get violent in return, get cheeky and survive through wit (when the bullies are laughing, they can’t hit…), or become so abject a target that there’s no point bullying.

I just realized how very sad it is that the world really can be equated to a 4th grade classroom…

Archive: The EUSCA

Archive: Originally published 08/31/2010 on

Certain folken (um, Libertarians, I’m lookin’ at you) often claim they never signed a social contract. But they agree to software licenses all the time, and for all they know, they’ve just signed away their children, their total net worth and their lifetime income.


So… we need an End User Social Contract Agreement.


EUSCA (End User Social Contract Agreement)

To be posted on every faucet connected to a municipal water supply, at every entrance to a publicly maintained road, on every electrical outlet*, on every telephone – cellular or hard-line**, on all food products bought and sold within the territorial boundaries of the United States, and on all consumer goods bought or sold within the territorial boundaries of the United States:

These terms of service apply to the exchange of goods, services and rights of all persons be they a natural born citizen, a naturalized citizen, a legal resident, visitor or undocumented person within the territorial boundaries of the United States. These terms of service are subject to change through the exercise of the rights of suffrage, lobbying or other means of alterations of policy as deemed legal by the various judicial and legislative bodies of the United States of America, including but not limited to city councils, county boards of supervisors, state legislatures, the US Congress and the United States Supreme Court.

1. Your Relationship with the Social Contract

Your use of this [water/road/electricity/telephone/food/consumer good] (referred to collectively as Services in this document and excluding any services provided to you by society under a separate agreement) is subject to the terms of a legal agreement between you and the rest of society. “Society” means every other living, breathing human being with whom you share the planet, and specifically means those who interact with you either in person, in place or via telecommunications networks, or who, due to the collective nature of our atmosphere, mineral resources and water supply, must interact with the same air, minerals or water you have touched, used, or otherwise consumed. This document explains how this agreement is made up, and sets out some, but not all, of the terms of that agreement.

1.2 Unless otherwise agreed in writing with all members of Society, your agreement to the social contract is implied by the use of the Services as outlined above and will always include, at minimum, the terms and conditions set out in this document. These are referred to below as the Universal Terms.

1.3 Your agreement with Society also includes the terms set forth in the US Constitution, the US Bill of Rights and other laws made by duly elected representative bodies in your local municipality, county, state or country, as long as you continue to reside within the boundaries of the United States or claim US citizenship while outside the territorial boundaries. This agreement with Society can be revoked only by removing yourself from the society entirely, either by death, the most common means, or by immigrating to a location where Society is not present, or where Society has ceased to function as an entity capable of enforcing this contract. For a list of such places, please reference the US Department of State’s International Travel Advisory listings and choose a locale from the list of current Travel Warning sites.

1.4 The Universal Terms, together with any additional terms, form a binding agreement between you and Society in regards to your use of the Services.

2. Accepting the Terms

2.1 In order to use the Services, you must first agree to the terms. You may not use the Services if you do not accept the Terms.

2.2 You can accept the Terms by:

A) Opening the faucet to allow water to flow

B) driving, biking, walking, rollerskating, skateboarding or otherwise making use of the publicly maintained road either by means of powered or human locomotion, or by sitting, standing or lying upon it

C) by connecting any device to the power outlet

D) by making use of the telephonic network for any reason and with any device

E) by consuming the attached food

F) by using the attached consumer good

G) by signing and dating a copy of this Social Contract when the option was made available to you.

2.3 By using any of the Services, you understand and agree that Society will treat your use of the Services as acceptance of the Terms from that point onwards.


*Per Rural Electrification Project, 1935 – 1972

** Rural Telephony Act

Archive: The Verdant Country Landscape That Must DIE DIE DIE!

Archive: Originally published 08/31/2010 on


We live in a 10 year old basic, in-fill tract. It’s a mixed neighborhood in a mixed town and from the outside, our house is just a simple one story ranch. It’s a modular house, and we are not only okay with that, we specifically bought a modular because they’re more efficient, have minimal interior load-bearing walls, use greener construction methods, and when we bought, we could have spent half a million bux for an equivalent green house, or the less than $100K that we did. (Green building, in 2001, was still entirely custom. Now, it’s everywhere.) We live in Boulder County, CO, which is one of the more expensive counties in the state; getting a house for under $200K in 2001 was an accomplishment, and despite the collapse of the market, most houses of this size start at about $250K. So we got a bargain, and for the most part, we’re pleased with it.

However… most modular buyers get to design their house. We did not because we bought it at something of a fire-sale, since the original buyers (who chose its color schemes and layout and did some decorating) had to back out. It’s not huge — 1500 square feet, three bedrooms plus a den, two baths. It has a mostly open plan, there’s a minimum of hallway, not much wasted space, and it gets good light, despite facing north. It has vaulted ceilings, so lots of vertical space in the middle, though the cathedral ceilings can be challenging.

When we moved in, we entered a lush and verdant country landscape — and I mean that literally. The first not-quite-owner picked emerald green carpet, green and gold frothy drapery and accents, and mossy green countertops with honey-oak face frame cabinets. We lived with it and around it, but five years ago, my husband’s allergies finally got to the point that we needed to bid adieu to soft surfaces (or part with the fur babies, and that was NOT an option). The carpet went away, the balloon valances and curtains went to the thrift store, the mini blinds (dust catchers of the worst sort) got recycled, cherry laminate went down, and the walls started getting coats of paint in colors we liked. Now, the living room and dining room are a cool grey with a touch of lavender, the den is a strong Chinese red, our furniture runs to black, grey, cherry with accents of plum and silver. We have a very modern aesthetic — abstract art with geeky touches (Mr. Me collects dragons, I have a penchant for Xray, electron microscope and MRI photography) but not a lot of geek kitsch. (No Dr Who or Star Wars action figures in the display case…) We’re far more bare bulb than crystal chandelier. Window coverings are now the trimmest, most stripped down roller blinds… but our kitchen… well, for now, it sticks out like a sore thumb.

In fact, the kitchen was driving me so crazy that our choices were really down to renovate or move. Mr Me hates moving and I don’t mean is unenthusiastic. I mean HATES it. Like to the point that when I made an off-hand comment shortly before we closed that if we hated the house/neighborhood we could sell it, he took that as “this will not be the house from which the undertakers remove me”, and didn’t unpack for five years. (He’s still not entirely unpacked.) (I’m a military brat, so to me, moving happens every 12-24 months, and it’s no big deal.) However, this house makes enormous financial sense (our mortgage is 20% of local median; we could not get a condo for what we pay for this one) and we’re nearly done paying for it. Since I won’t subject Mr Me to moving, a renovation was the only option, though his enthusiasm for reno was only slightly higher than for boxes and Uhaul. (Remember, dust allergy.) Okay… I suppose I could have gone completely mental and developed a taste for canvas coats with extra long sleeves, but that’s kinda not an option, either.

We have an open plan — the front door opens into the living room which opens into the dining room (11 o’clock from the front door) and den (1 o’clock from the front door). The kitchen is to the upper left, the master bedroom and bath to the lower left. A short hall leads to the small bedrooms (offices for each of us – we have no children and if any appear, there will be either a star in the east or the seventh seal will be opening) and the guest bath. That end of the house — I’m not worried about. It works. My office got a reno last summer to support my ever expanding library , and Mr Me has his own space (the less said about it, the better). I’d like to re-paper and paint the bathroom sometime this fall, but that’s minor.

The one place the house wasn’t well designed is the kitchen. Apparently, the architect lives on take-out — zie has never made a box of mac n cheese, because this kitchen doesn’t work. It’s a modified L galley, with a peninsula dividing the kitchen from the dining room, and glass-fronted cabinets wrapped around an otherwise unused wall. There’s a lot of unused space in the cabinets because, being face-frame, they really can’t support drawers, and especially in the pantry and the peninsula, things just aren’t accessible (30 inch deep cabinets make NO sense, especially when the doors are 12 inches wide). On the far end is a breakfast nook/utility space/laundry room that is too small for a proper breakfast space (a banquette is out of the question because we have four windows around the edges, and any banquette would block them) so is used mostly for storage, recycling, laundry.

I fell in love with the idea of IKEA cabinetry (and the 32 mm system) long before I ever saw it. I’ve lived with European cabinetry before, and to me, it just makes more sense — cleaner lines, more useful space, ease of assembly and replacement if necessary. Denver/Boulder is a wonderful place to live — progressive with sense, with some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world basically at our doorstep, and a thriving tech-academic-geek community — but we’re just getting our IKEA next year. Thus, any IKEA-ing requires long-distance ordering or long drives, thus necessitating excellent planning.

In April and May, I renovated my grandmother’s kitchen (in Indiana, see: Indiana Farm Kitchen Project), and came home with the itch to fix mine. After almost ten years, I finally knew what I wanted.

One priority is to spend locally as much as possible, (I’d rather not give Utah or Arizona my sales tax dollars when Colorado needs them just as badly) keep whatever is truly functional and use recycled and recovered when possible. Another design philosophy is that form follows function and aesthetics will come from functionality. Further, we are 5’2″ and 6’4″ — thus, I need to design for this disparity when possible and take advantage of our 12 foot ceilings while still keeping space for a step ladder. Finally, both Mr Me and I are left-handed, so we get the option of designing for our convenience instead of being forced to live with right handed design. (Seriously, this is an issue — lefties end up getting hurt quite often because we’re trying to muddle through a world designed for righties. Dremels are particularly dangerous.)

So after ten years of living with our country kitsch kitchen, I’m done. I’ve tried to kludge functionality into it by adding under cabinet lighting and pullout baskets and using wall space to hang utensils, but it’s a kludge and feels temporary. The lighting is awful (the one place the designer didn’t go over the top country kitsch is the pair of cheap overhead fluorescent lights), the storage is worse — few drawers, deep cupboards, narrow openings. He/she also installed a plastic 1/4-3/4 sink which stains if you look at it wrong and has to be resealed with silicone caulk every year because plastic doesn’t accept plumber’s putty. And ya know, tea and our alpine spring water stain caulk really nicely.

Things I specifically hate: I have zero love for the crown molding with a thread of brass running through it — for one, I don’t like crown molding because it’s usually just fussy (and catches dust), and the brass… it’s useless. The laundry sink was a good idea, but terrible execution — it’s going away. (I use it when we’re painting, so two weeks a year at most.) I despise the color scheme, the faux tile backsplash, and the delicate laminate countertops. We have limited useful storage and the countertops catch clutter.

Resale value is not terribly high on our priority list — I have made my peace with the notion that I will probably die in this house, and my nieces (our heirs) can fire-sale or live here as they please. (Given that my six year old niece is a baby Gothling-Steampunk Princess, she’d probably be delighted here.) Thus, I’m going modern-industrial with this, to fit with the rest of the house. However, long-term functionality is high, because we’re going to die in this house and Mr Me is not going to let me take on another project this size for a good five years.

As in Indiana, I am doing most of the work myself. Mr Me and I have an agreement — he has a low frustration threshold for this sort of DIY , while I have a better eye for it, more patience and tolerance, and just… better skills because I’ve been doing most of this for all of our marriage and for years before. He’ll be available for heavy lifting, but other than that, I’m pretty much sending him off to World of Warcraft. I keep his honey-do list very limited because we both know his limits. (Seriously, this is a marriage saver, though of course there are times when both of our egos get in the way.)

I probably should have started this blog when I started the project (hey, I took photos better this time!) but I was a week behind schedule and wanted to get caught up. (More on that in future posts.)

Archive: The Boulder Industrial (half) Kitchen Manifesto & Materials

Archive: Originally posted 08/31/2010 at


So, yes, I’m a moron when it comes to DIY. Having done my grandmother’s kitchen, it was time to do my own.

Mission Statement for this Project:

Replace about half of the existing cabinetry and countertops for better functionality. Rehabilitate the rest of the cabinetry for updated look and durability. Replace backsplash, sink, faucet. Remove useless laundry sink. Make better use of vertical space. Increase storage. Improve functionality. Improve lighting. Stay under $3000 budget. Reuse and recycle materials. Use most ecologically responsible methods while building for sustainability and long-term use. Change kitchen from right-handed orientation to left-handed orientation.

List of Materials, Fixtures, Appliances, etc.

Physical structure: 2001 modular house. Stock cabinets built at construction from luan, pine, MDF and oak frames. PEX inbound plumbing; natural gas.

Countertops: Lagan butcherblock and existing with Giani granite treatment

Frames: existing and Akurum; Akurum legs, Perfekt toe kicks in gloss grey

Doors: existing and Applad Black (now discontinued)

Paint: Benjamin Moore Twilight Zone (black, 2127-10) Fusion (grey, AF-675), Pomegranate (red, AF-295) mixed in semi-gloss Eco-Spec base.

Door/Drawer hardware: Bygel rails (on drawer fronts larger than 24 inches), Attest (on drawer fronts between 12 and 18 inches) Kosing (on vertical doors). Attest and Kosing backed by steel fender washers to visually tie in with Bygel rails.

Appliances: existing. Whirlpool range, fridge, dishwasher, disposal; LG microwave.

Lighting: Ottava pendant (above sink) Dioder LEDs (under cabinets) Hampton Bay ceiling fan and track system (from Home Despot.)

Sink: reuse stainless from Habitat for Humanity shop

Faucet: ebay.

Flooring: existing

Window treatments: Isdan roller blinds, frosted glass paint, metallic tape

Trim: Aluminum angle and aluminum sheet

Backsplash: recycled glass mosaic tile, recycled glass (from a local glass shop), recycled matte white and grey 4.125 inch ceramic tile.

Archive: Manifesto

Originally published 8/10/2010 on


I’m a girl, a geek, a technophile and a DIYer. I am a feminist, a liberal, and a greenie. I truly believe that I can do anything if I set my mind to it, and I want to help prove that women need not rely on any specialized power to accomplish their goals. Anybody can build something, especially if she starts small and learns as she goes. If I can inspire one person to take a crowbar to something she hates and replace it with something she loves, my work here is done.

Archive: The Indiana Farm Kitchen (post-mortem)

Archive: Originally posted 8/31/2010 at

From this:


To this:

This is an overview project after action report rather than a live, as it happens blog post. This is in part because during this adventure, I had only sporadic access to the internet, and I was working excessively long hours to get it done in very little time. I’ll be breaking down this project diary with pictures and detailed notes over time, but for now, this is the overview. (Edited to add that a year later, I still haven’t broken this down, and I probably never will. Ask me questions and I’ll answer, but…)

My family has owned a farm in central Indiana for over 130 years, and the house on the land is 128 years old. It’s always been a farm house, which means it has always sheltered and been maintained by farmers. Farmers are inveterate DIYers, which is probably where I get the trait — or taint — but farmers are often poor, too, so they tend to use the contracting services of Good Enough, That’ll Hold ‘Er, and Good Idea at the Time. 128 years of this can become problematic.

Also, my great-grandfather lived in that house from birth to death — quite literally. He died in 2006, well into his nineties, and for the last thirty or so years of his life, he couldn’t do much of the maintenance such an old house requires. Worse, he couldn’t just pick up the phone and call someone to do it for him because he was deaf — after a lifetime on the tractor (which in those days didn’t have such niceties as mufflers and had straight pipes that came up right beside the driver) his hearing was shot. Hearing aids helped (some) but he couldn’t hear on the telephone and a TTY/TYY was beyond him — he never learned to type. That meant a lot of maintenance got deferred.

The house is most certainly a product of its time — plaster and lathe walls, little insulation, and many of the windows are getting to the point where they need to be replaced. But with a house that has so much history and sentimental value, it’s hard for people to make the decision to bulldoze it and start over. Plus, it’s a great house — twelve foot ceilings on the main floor, lots of room and light, five (effective) bedrooms… but only one bathroom, many odd nooks and storage spots, and a lot of odd decisions over the years. The fact that it has withstood dozens of tornadoes and storms pretty much says it is worth salvaging.

And that’s what my grandmother decided to do. She sold her house in Florida and moved back to Indiana to finance the renovation of this monster of a house. But after 40 years of deferred maintenance, we were looking at some problems, and still are. The bathroom still needs a major reno and the plaster and flooring in most of the house needs to be redone, as well as getting better insulation into the whole thing and replacing out all of the windows. (These are all in various stages of progress or planning.) (ETA: These were completed in the fall of 2010.)

I flew out of Denver on April 13, 2010 to Florida, to help her move. She did have a mover, but when I arrived, her house was far from packed and ready, plus we had to finalize plans for the reno’ed kitchen in Indiana. Since she won’t be reading this, I can say here that her notions of “packing lightly” and “ready to go” are pretty awful.

That packing and drive were adventures in and of themselves (she’s lucky I didn’t feed her to an alligator in Florida panhandle swamps — and I am not suited to heat and humidity, nor did I even get to see the best part of Florida, the ocean, and of course, I will never get to see it the way it was then again, thanks to BP and Halliburton idiots) but the kitchen was the point.

We arrived in Indiana on April 18 to the combined two households of stuff (the movers got there before us)… and it was a lot of stuff. She’s lived in Florida for 30 years, and a 128 year old house accumulates stuff, too. (Also, farmers plus Depression babies plus a slight familial case of packrat not elevated to hoarding level 2… lotsa stuff.) We spent the 19th getting most of the downstairs cleared enough that we could bring in another big pile of stuff (from IKEA) and I spent time making sure my design was going to work. I knew from my first night in the house that I had to replace the bed in the room I normally use (the east bedroom on the second floor) so I planned to also buy a replacement. (This was the best decision I made — I got a simple twin frame and a new mattress, and while it wasn’t my memory foam bed at home — being half the size, not colonized by two cats — one sleeping on my hair — and distinctly lacking my partner — it is a billion times better than the marble slab that had been in “my” room. [As it happens, the room I use in the farm house has been mine before, and I very much like it; it’s on the east side of the house and very comfortable, though small and with the dormer, slanted ceiling.])

Oops. First snag. I had been basing my design on inaccurate measurements — I’d given the kitchen an extra two feet in both directions. (Not sure how I did that, but I did…) That meant jettisoning the idea of an island or peninsula, and wrapping cabinets around the walls instead. I also needed to know where the windows went (not in my original measurements — remember, I’m designing from Colorado, with my family in Florida, Arizona, Illinois and Georgia). That meant spending most of the 19th, while the movers did their thing, with my computer. (Probably pissed them off, but oh, well.)

On April 20, we got up early and drove three hours over mostly back roads to West Chester, OH, to the closest IKEA. We had discussed using a custom service, or Sears’ refinishing surface, but one of the biggest problems in the farm kitchen was the lack of counter space. It quite literally had 42 inches of usable space — two feet between stove and sink and about a foot and a half over the dishwasher (which no longer worked.) Further, we planned to cash in on IKEA’s kitchen sale — buy three appliances and get 20% off your order. (This saved us over $1000, since we had to replace appliances anyway.) We budgeted to spend $7000, and none of the other services could do what we needed for that. Further, the kitchen had a ton of wasted space and a bad layout — no working triangle, few cabinets and drawers, old appliances, and (this, I will never understand) a carpeted floor.

We spent a couple hours wandering through IKEA to finish getting ideas down, then went to work with the Kitchen consultant. $4300 later, we had most of the kitchen purchased. Now, we only needed to buy a few finishing bits (like a bookcase to use instead of a much deeper high cabinet, and a new bed for me and lighting) and we were done. A lot of people have a bit of a hate on for IKEA (I blame Chuck Pissypants’ Fight Club — bad movie, worse book, extreme misogyny and self-hatred wrapped in pseudo-intellectual cultural commentary) but in terms of good, clean design, IKEA can’t be beat. Their stuff is sturdy, easy and logical, not to mention reasonably green (for mass-produced, consumer culture stuff) and inexpensive. It was absolutely worth the 6 hours in the car and the 6 hours wandering the store (and I can’t complain about the lignonberry stuff, either…)

Here’s the interesting bit — I have no real experience with IKEA. I’ve been in a store once before (the one in Schaumberg) and spent hours on their website, but Denver’s IKEA won’t open until 2011, and I was already in Colorado when Arizona got theirs. So in a lot of ways, I was flying blind and relying on the advice of others.

Why did we decide to do the kitchen first? Well, a few reasons. First, I think my grandmother is absolutely nuts to be moving back to Indiana, but it’s the best decision she can make given the circumstances. Property taxes on a working farm where the owner is not resident are brutal, and they were eating her alive. The second set of taxes (on the Florida house) weren’t helping. She doesn’t like cold, but she also has lost a significant number of friends in Florida in the last few years. (She’s 73. This is going to happen, but it doesn’t make it any easier to witness.) Emotionally, she feels a responsibility to the Indiana house that she can’t deny. So do my mother and I, so this move had to be made.

Was the kitchen a priority? Not necessarily. The water sort of worked, it was a more or less functional space. But moving creates a mess and in my mind, one gigantic mess for three weeks is a lot easier to live with than several large messes over several months.

Also, doing the kitchen first did a couple of things: first, it claimed the space as hers. Until it was gutted, it wasn’t my grandmother’s kitchen, it was the one my great-grandmother installed. My grandmother might be the owner in law of the house, but the true owners were my great-parents, her parents, and until the house is brought back to its best, it will continue to remind her of them. (My great-grandmother died in 1999.) The kitchen is the heart of the house, so it needed to have the first transformation. Further, very little in there worked anymore. The inbound water system was having loads of problems, the dishwasher had gone beyond last legs, and the fridge needs its own power plant. Only the stove was in good shape, and it’s new. Worse, over the winter, while she was in Florida, an animal got in the house and threw the mother of all frat parties. It broke the kitchen window (either getting out or in) put a hole in the ceiling, and pretty much trashed everything.

So it was time.

After we got back from Ohio and got the stuff out of the truck and into the house came demolition. The kitchen had to be gutted before anything went in, because we were going back to hard-surface floors and painting as well as getting rid of the old cabinets. Second snag — inbound water. After 128 years, the plumbing has gone through at least three different phases. I’m not sure when the house was originally plumbed (I know my great-great-grandmother was alive) but there was a radiator system until the 1980s, and at some point, either galvanized pipe was grafted into the copper system or copper was grafted into the galvanized system. Either way, that is a big problem. Water pipes must be either copper or galvanized, not a mix. When they’re mixed, this causes an electrical current to run through the pipes, causing corrosion and eventually blocking the pipes with a black crud. It also corrodes the connections, especially the shutoff valves. The shut-off valves in many places were so corroded they were impossible to turn, or if they turned, they didn’t actually shut off the water. Also, we had pipes running in the most illogical ways (like the outside water went through the water softener instead of coming directly off the well — yeah, pouring salt outside is going to do the ground a great deal of good) and just a lot of legacy problems.

Worse, I couldn’t take the kitchen pipes out — everything in there was so corroded that nothing could be turned off. Further, at some point, my great-grandfather installed a tap directly from the well to the kitchen sink. (I don’t know why — it wasn’t in case the power went out because the well is on a pump.) That faucet didn’t even HAVE a shut off valve. That meant it was time to fix the water problem. Last July (2009) when my grandfather (not married to my grandmother since the 1960s) died, my cousin Chris and I went into the basement and he mentioned that the simplest way to fix the system would be to run a pex (flexible plastic tubing) system. It’s not a difficult job — other than climbing around in the basement, which is nasty and filthy and contains a botulism factory in the form of my great-great-grandmother’s home canned goods — but it needed to be done. We also had a water line running to the old refrigerator’s ice maker (again, no shutoff valve) that hadn’t been used since the 80s — the water is not even good enough for ice. That’s when we turned to Ron.

Ron is the savior of this house, and the little house on the property. He renovated the little house after the subflooring went out, replaced the piping and made it a wonderful showplace. He’s been doing the same on the big house a bit at a time — replacing windows, doors and making it weather-tight and he will eventually do the plaster and insulation work. Ron, like many people, is arachnophobic (and the basement is where spiders go to party) so he got his son-in-law, Andy, to do the plumbing work. Andy was absolutely fabulous and replaced the plumbing in 2 days while I finished demolition and got the flooring down. More importantly, Ron lent me his tools — an entire trailer’s worth of power tools. I’m a little in love with this man’s knowledge and generosity. (I made him cream cheese brownies with nuts as a thank you, the first thing cooked in the completed kitchen… and yes, he got paid, too.)

At the same time, Ron was demolishing the garage. The garage has been in rough shape for several years — remember, 40 years of deferred maintenance — and the roof was pretty much done. The creatures who threw the frat party in the kitchen had been making a home for themselves in the garage for a while (at very least it was a raccoon and her kits — Ron found a mama and three kits when he got the roof off), leaving a 2′ x’ 6′ ish sized hole in the roof. All of the insulation was down, and it was just in bad shape.

Andy got the water system in on the 26th of April, by which time I had laid the new laminate floor. Here’s my only criticism for IKEA — Tundra flooring is a pain in the ass. It’s not the world’s highest end laminate (really, at $1.25 a square foot I wasn’t expecting it to be and to be honest, I know this house WAY too well — sometime in the next decade, something will happen and we will have to replace the flooring despite all the work we’re doing) but I’ve worked with similarly priced laminate flooring before, and Tundra is harder to work with than those. It chips very easily (and I’m little — I’m more a leverage girl than brute force — I don’t really whang away on things) and getting it to click into place and not shift is fiddly. However, I got it done, down and secure, and that was the most important thing.

Then came construction — with the water system in place, we were doing okay. I did have to give myself an extra week, but I’d been thinking I’d have to do that since before I left Colorado on April 13. Also, upcoming was my break.

I love industrial music, and an artist I’ve been wanting to see — Assemblage 23 — was going to be in Indianapolis on April 29. There was a very good chance I was not going to get to see the date in Denver (May 11; I was in too much residual pain to go, and it was snowing here). Plus, I knew that by then, I would be going stir-crazy. Look, I love my grandmother quite a lot, but Indiana is not my place and her generation are not my people. I am a liberal, a feminist, a technophile and a strict anti-racist; Central Indiana is the type of place where women not only let men drive their cars (I can’t imagine this — maybe a partner with whom I share other financial ties, but not a mere boyfriend), it is expected and normal and a woman driving with a man in the car is abnormal; Tea Partiers are thick on the ground and casual racism is rampant. (This last bothers me a lot.) I can only stand so much breakfast at 10, lunch at 1, supper at 5, bedtime at 8 and Food Network and HGTV (Gran’s an addict) before getting just a wee bit… crazy. Besides, dancing is how I blow off stress, and the farm house, my grandmother and just being in Tea Party Central Indiana (of course I had to be there during the Republican Primary race, so every other commercial on TV — another issue: I don’t do television, my grandmother has it on all the time — was some moron spouting off about economics he doesn’t understand and advocating policies that will just make Indiana — already in dire financial trouble — that much worse off) was bringing it in buckets and crates.

Further, I was hurting. I don’t know what I did, but for the most part, I’m pretty desk-bound. I am not a contractor, and I work more with my brain than with my brawn. My arms were (and still are, though improving) hurting, and I think I pinched a nerve in my neck. I needed to take a day and a half and go dance, get a massage (thank you, Chelsea, at the Carmel, IN Massage Envy — I will be grateful to you until the day I die, and I hope my tip reflected that) and have three long, hot soaks in the hotel’s hot tub. I also wanted food. Again, not to criticize other people’s choices, but Howard County kind of sucks for good, fresh, flavorful food. They do things to pork tenderloins that should illegal, deep-fry almost everything, and salads are pretty much iceberg lettuce… plus the stuff I tend to live on — Indian, good Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese, Mexican and organic nouvelle — not to be had at all.

So by the 29th of April, when I had all the base cabinets in and most of the counter-top, the sink installed and the inbound and outbound water for the sink done (and I wish I could find my picture of the outbound plumbing; I did a beautiful job) I was ready for a break. I rented a car, drove to Indianapolis, had my massage and my first hot tub session, got lamb saag for supper (Thank you, Taj of India, you live up to your name), then went to the concert.

Which was… different. I am so used to the Denver Goth/Industrial scene that seeing another scene was refreshing. I fully expect Denver’s Cervantes Ballroom was packed when Assemblage 23 played, and I would have had to be there an hour early in line. In Indiana, I made sure I arrived on time (tix said doors open at 8, concert at 9) and… there were four people there. Doors weren’t quite open. The venue was Indianapolis’ drag club, in an old, wood-frame and brick building in a residential neighborhood. (Talbott Street night club). It’s a GREAT venue, as it happens — wood floors are perfect for dancing, and the acoustics are stellar — but there were maybe 200-300 people in a place that could hold 1000. This was good for dancing, too — big personal bubble — but I have definitely gotten used to dancing in Denver. Here, you have to pretty much hold your own space — feet stay in a 18″ square — while there, with that much space, people truly let go. Assemblage 23 probably lost money on the gig, but it was one of the best concerts I’ve been to. (I can’t imagine being gay or transvestite in Indiana — since the notion of non-gendered bathrooms seemed to bother many of the concert-goers (here, they’re just part of the scenery) and given the neighborhood, it must be like going back in time thirty years and not just fearing being bashed, but having to expect it and live with the dread. But the fact that the club exists, and is making money, and surviving is a good sign, at least for Indianapolis’ tolerance levels.)

Two G&Ts and four hours of dancing really helped — my arms stopped hurting. I met several people — another oddity: the Indy scene is pretty much incestuous; everybody knows everyone else, even if they live in different parts of the state, but they were very kind and friendly to an outsider — and went back to my second hot tub. (I splurged on a room with one. Again, best money ever spent.)

The next morning, I got my third tub (oh, yes, I profligately wasted water) and vietnamese rice noodle rolls and a shrimp rice noodle bowl and went back to the farm, ready and able to go back to work.

(Another thing that freaks me about that area of the country — here, I drive an hour to go to the really good fabric store or a few other places in south Denver every other month or so, when I need to stock up on something, and my best friend and I drive 30-45 minutes for a club or event all the time, winter and summer. There, the very notion of driving to Indianapolis (45 miles and 50 minutes away) is an EVENT, not to be considered lightly. It’s like they’re just past horse and buggy days. And if I lived there, I’d probably not think too hard about driving to Chicago a couple times a year for cultural stuff… but that’s almost unthinkable. Distances are really different in different parts of the country, and it seems to be cultural, not because of demographics or economics or local conditions.)

Over the 30th, first and second of May, I finished the drawers and got the wall cabinets started, but the microwave made me its bitch. Even new ones are heavy, and mounting it turned into hell. Plus, the electrical issue — it took me forever to find the right breaker. Now, here’s one of my oddities. I hate hardwiring. I think everything — EVERYTHING, including light switches and wall/ceiling mounted lamps — should have a plug. I put a plug on the dishwasher and on the wire running out of the wall. To me, this makes sense — if you have to service the dishwasher, isn’t it more logical to unplug it than to cut the power to the whole room? Same for the microwave. Plus it makes it a lot easier to change things out later if you want or need. But the house disagreed — it’s always been hardwired. Well, now it’s not. As far as my construction is concerned, everything is modular and removable — including each cabinet. Ten screws (into the countertops or walls and those connecting the sides) and any single piece will come out and can be replaced.

As far as I can tell, my great-uncle Elvin did a lot of the wiring. He was an electrical engineer, which is great, except that he was an electrical engineer, and sometimes he went for theory instead of practical.

We had really variable weather the entire time I was there — it never froze, but it got into the 40s several nights, and up into the eighties with high humidity during the days, and the wind just doesn’t let up out in the plains. (We need a wind generator. Seriously, we’d make a mint.) Several tornado watches but no warnings, and weird thunderstorms. (Thunder storms at 3 AM? That’s odd for me. In Colorado, we get thunder in the afternoons, after the sun has heated up the earth.) Sunday the 2nd I was working on putting together wall cabinets so Ron could help me hang the heavy ones and the microwave on Monday (Anything boys can do, I can do (better) but for some things, even I need four hands) when the wind picked up. I’d gone out to move some of the excess cardboard (warning: if you’re thinking of doing an IKEA reno — you will have enough cardboard to fill a dumpster. Or make a great bonfire. And if you don’t have easy access to recycling facilities, this can get onerous) because I didn’t want the wind catching it, and I had to LEAN into the wind to take a step. And I’m no waif…

I went back inside and a few minutes later, the power flickered just a little… nothing major (we didn’t actually lose power until the night of the 6th). But a few minutes later, I looked outside and saw that the garage (already lacking a roof because Ron had removed it) was no longer exactly where it was supposed to be. At that point, I ran outside in the rain and moved the car so it was in a clear field — my grandmother’s car being the only transportation we had, and she not ready to trade it in — or have it totaled — quite yet.

We were getting 60 MPH winds, with no real windbreak. (The granaries are round — the wind goes right around them.) Up here in Colorado, 60 MPH is nothing. We get them regularly, and they might break off a branch or two, but they’re not that bad. We just have less air, and air density is a real factor. But Indiana’s not too far above sea level, and wind that fast packs a punch. Let me be clear — this was straight wind, not tornado wind. It was just whipping off the plains, not spiraling.

We got lucky. As rickety as that garage was, if the roof had been on (and mostly intact) that wind would have picked it up and thrown it… probably 15-20 feet, where it would have landed on the car. As it was, the wind moved the garage walls about 10 feet off their foundation, twisted it pretty badly, and made salvaging the walls impossible. That means my grandmother will have to put another building in its place (probably a prefab of some sort, either metal or frame) but not right now.

It amazed Ron when he came out on Monday (the third) and we picked up the debris. There was siding as far as our farm manager’s barn (close to a quarter mile) as well as in the fields, but my childhood concrete donkey survived. Donkey’s been through a lot, and Ron promised to move him when he can get to him. Then Ron and I got the microwave installed and the countertops cut. (I hate table saws. I don’t know why. Not much more fond of circular saws. I LOVE compound miter saws and have no problems with them — even if they are high speed whirling guillotines of death — but the others… no. I’d rather not. Thanks.) And hit snag three.

I was scrupulous about setting my levels and measurements. The countertops at the junction should have met, and according to the levels and everything else, there’s no reason they shouldn’t, but they refused. This meant more fiddling, shimming and kludging. Also, the IKEA planning software wouldn’t let me put a 12 inch base cabinet (or use a 36 instead of a 24) in a space with 15 spare inches. (I don’t know why.) So I ended up needing to fill a 15 inch space. It also denied me a 12 inch space by the north window. (Things to know when doing this in a space where I can work on the design at the same time I’m in the kitchen, for future reference.)

Thus, the open shelving in the corner and the deco shelf by the window. The former is actually a 15 inch wall cabinet (and it fits there beautifully), and the countertops are tied in on top. The deco shelf is just a 29 inch bookcase (not as well made as IKEA, sorry to say) from the local hardware store. The important part is they work, and tie into everything else, even if they’re not what I would have done by preference.

By this point, we’re in the home stretch — I still had to reset tile on the backsplash — something I’d never done, and I did end up setting three crooked, or they sagged — and getting the vent moved.

The kitchen had a furnace vent in the floor by the east wall — this vent may be why there were no cabinets on the east wall. I knew I could divert the airflow with sufficient aluminum tape, a vent boot and vent board (it’s a corrugated cardboard covered with aluminum that’s rated against fire… and is highly reflective –annoying in morning sunlight). The only problem? The legs of the cabinets were just in the way. However, in getting everything level, the toe kick boards (4 inches wide) were too narrow to completely fill the toe-kick space. The floor on the north side is about an inch higher than the floor on the south side of the kitchen, and to make sure the countertops were level, I had to let the base cabinets be a little taller on the south side. That meant I had air venting space. Admittedly now the heating will be more of the radiant type — no blasts of hot air — than vented, but the kitchen will still be warm. Instead of putting in a register, I just drilled holes in the toe kick and diverted the vent. Problem solved.

I replaced the bar with the butcher block countertop (I’d wanted to cut it down to counter height, but there were live wires in there, and I didn’t know where they went or what they did, so that killed that plan) and cantilevered it. I would have liked to round off the corners, but I didn’t have the right tools to do it and cutting that butcher block was tough — I couldn’t have gotten the corners right with a jig saw.

My grandmother had some specific design elements she wanted (remember, she’s an HGTV addict, and she’s watched a lot of it over the years). She wanted a plate rack (I nixed that with the Billy book case, which should have had glass doors, but they were out of stock) and an appliance garage and a shelf for her cookie sheets. The appliance garage ended up being trivial — just two pieces of melamine cut to size, fixed with angle brackets and trimmed. The door however, could have been a deal breaker. Appliance garages often have a tambor door — like on a rolltop desk. These are expensive — $150 to $300 for a single door. We had a extra fifteen inch door (because we couldn’t put the cabinet over the refrigerator — the space between the top of the fridge and the soffit was only 13 inches, and we needed 15, but we wanted the fridge more than the cabinet space we can’t reach anyway) and hinges, so that became the door. The shelf for the cookie sheets also ended up being trivial — another piece of melamine, cut to fit, and fixed with angle brackets between the wall and the wall cabinet.

Final touches — finished the toekicks, grouted the backsplash (and it’s amazing what fresh, white grout will do) and hung towel bars (actually 9″ Lansa cabinet handles) and did the trim. Then I put everything away… (A trip in itself.)


And then I came home, to air I don’t have to chew before I breathe, and kitties and my wonderful C.

Lessons learned:

The internet was my saving grace: my grandmother finally has DSL (as of the 29th of April) after years of 28.8 dialup. I took my iPad and used it almost continually while I was there; it let me look things up, calculate, investigate problems and come up with creative solutions. I also watched/listened to almost two seasons of Buffy via Netflix streaming on it — that kept my sanity in the black. (General TV drives me crazy — I hate commercials.) I also installed a wireless network for her; while she doesn’t surf much, better she have the ability to do so wherever she wants in the house than confined to a desk. (She does have a laptop after all.)

Measure six times, make a template, then cut. My first construction projects were in fabric, not wood, so for me, a template or pattern feels natural. Whenever I had a hole I needed to drill precisely, I used a template — drawer pulls, knob holes, the water system. (I had plenty of cardboard…) It made my life a lot easier and the holes were where I wanted them instead of all over the place. The one time I didn’t do this — in mounting the microwave — we did it Ron’s way, which was by measurement. We ended up with extra holes. (Not that I’m complaining.)

Once again, my Black and Decker x1200 cordless drill was invaluable. It’s not very heavy (and there are things it doesn’t like to do like drill through stainless steel) but it was perfect for what I needed it to do most of the time.

A devilled egg tray or ice cube tray is essential for keeping track of small parts.

If you have a metal pipe system, check it now. A Pex system can be had for about a grand, and it is much easier to work with. Plus, copper is worth money. Recycle it.

Love your level. (And I don’t mean the vodka, though that’s nice, too.)

Have no expectations about level, plumb or true. (This is true in my 10 year old house, too.) For that matter, have no expectations. Measure six times, cut once.

Caulk covers a multitude of melamine sins.

Find someone at your local hardware store who knows what she’s talking about and get her schedule. Go there when she’s working. Send her flowers. (Mine was Hester, at Menard’s, in Kokomo. She’s absolutely fabulous.)

Clean up every night. It’s much easier to start working in the morning if you have swept the floor and put away your tools. Charge your batteries every night.

Tape measures, utility knives and pencils live on your person. Also, use good pencils. I tend to use one of two options: at home, I use a set of colored pencils — they come off with a magic eraser and the colors make it easier to know if you have to change your mind about something, but in Indiana, I used a cretacolor solid graphite pencil. It lived in my bun like a hair stick. Have a notebook, or a chalk or white board handy for notes. Use it.

Buy lots of blue tape. Use it for everything — not just paint. It will hold on your templates, keep your faucet in position while you get the fittings positioned, pick up sawdust before you treat the countertops, mark straight cutting lines and keep melamine from cracking when cut or drilled.

Make sure your hammer fits in your hand, then never let anyone else use it. Mine is a 5 ounce claw hammer — what some people call a tack hammer. An 8 ounce hammer (standard size) is just too big for me and exhausts me, but my 5 ounce is perfect. Same with other tools — nobody uses my drill, for example. Selfish, yes, but tools become extensions of your body when you work with them, and losing one is an amputation.

Give yourself extra time. I would have liked an extra day or two to finish some little bits and clean up the rest of the house a bit more, but I’d already delayed my return by a week.

Magic erasers are your friends, too — they’ll erase most marking mistakes. For things like construction adhesive and caulk, razor blades.

Change your utility knife blades every day. They get dull fast, they’re cheap and easy to replace.

Behandla countertop treatment gets sticky if the ambient humidity is too high, especially on the last coat. Follow all the directions precisely, and wipe the excess off thoroughly.

Label your breaker box.

Keep rags handy, both wet and dry. Wet cleans up paint, pencil, or sawdust, dry for everything.

Have help, if you can delegate. (I kind of suck at it.) Lift with your knees, not your back, get plenty of rest and eat and drink whenever you’re getting cranky.

The IKEA planning tool is good, but somewhat unreliable. Be aware, and sometimes, it’s okay to trust your own judgement over the tool’s.

Have plenty of trash and recycle space available. If you can, get your old stuff to a reuse (ours wasn’t worth doing that with, even if Kokomo had such a creature, which it doesn’t.)

To see pictures, visit the album.